The Summit County Board of Developmental Disabilities notified its employees Tuesday about the possibility of staff cutbacks.
Staff members received a letter saying that based on a preliminary analysis, the board might need to reduce its adult direct service staff by 49 employees.
The issue came up during talks with the Weaver Workshop and Support Association bargaining unit. It represents about 150 employees, primarily staff in adult services and plant operations.
“Nobody has received any layoff notice. There is language in the contract that specifies how much notice has to be given,” Tom Armstrong, superintendent of the county DD board, said Tuesday. “The labor rules and protocol are spelled out in the contract. This is not the formal announcement.”
He said the board is in labor negotiations right now and the question came up whether the board was trying to privatize adult direct services.
“We’ve been getting smaller as a service provider over time. We have not been able to compete with the private sector from a cost standpoint,” Armstrong said. “We are not trying to privatize the program. We are not there. But there are many private providers who do what we do for less.”
He said the adult services program costs the agency about $13 million a year from its $70 million overall budget.
“It was important to us not to be disingenuous about the fact that we have some staff issues. Some folks took that and ran with it,” Armstrong said. “We wanted to share with the team that this is an issue, and at some point in time we will have to talk about reducing adult services staff.
“It could be as early as this fall or a year from now, but at some point in time we need to get smaller.”
He said the board’s primary mission is to serve people with developmental disabilities and ensure their needs are met. But part of the board’s role is also administrative, funding and an overseer of services.
Armstrong said that except for adult services, there is no other dialogue about any other program component concerning a staff reduction.
“Are we looking at all program areas to make sure we are being good stewards of public dollars? Absolutely,” Armstrong said. “We do that all the time. But the only area we have identified there is a problem at this time in staff reductions is in adult services, and specifically our facility-based services.
“That’s what we know now,” he said.
There are eight facilities in the Summit County DD system.
The agency recently passed a levy, but Armstrong said the issue isn’t about the money.
“It’s about, ‘Do you pay more money for the same service just because you have the money?’ Is that being a good steward of public dollars?” he said.
The number of clients in the adult services program is declining every year, Armstrong said, and staff attrition has not kept pace with that drop-off.
He said attrition might come into play before any cuts are determined or possible early retirement incentives offered.
“So far, the negotiations have been pretty positive. We made some progress. Hopefully this won’t throw too big of a wrench in it,” Armstrong said. “I’m sure folks are digesting the discussion right now.”
Talks with the Weaver Workshop and Support Association are scheduled to resume in mid to late July. The union has been working under terms of the last contract, which expired Dec. 31.
No one from the bargaining unit could be reached for comment.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or email@example.com.